For small businesses, COVID-19 has been the catalyst of a huge amount of change. From setting up home offices to changing working hours, businesses are finding entirely new ways to maintain operations. It seems as though these won’t be just short-term changes — business operations are fundamentally, and permanently, changing.
But amid the effort to adapt to new realities it’s easy to overlook old ones: Once you’re set up to do your work in this brave new world, who are the clients you’ll be serving? How are you communicating with them? Is your business set up to convert every lead?
We asked six marketing experts to weigh in on how businesses should approach these concerns.
They believed interacting with clients on the phone and online, through forms or web chat, will still be critical to converting curious leads into satisfied clients; however, many businesses they worked with already struggled to embrace phone- and web-based sales enablement tools. COVID-19 hadn’t yet changed their minds: All gave their clients 6 out of 10 or less in ability to handle phone- and web-based lead conversion.
We asked them to share how you can break out of this rut and adapt — getting ahead of your competition while you’re at it.
With the stark change in how many industries are operating, from law to real estate to technical support and even medicine, comes an opportunity to change how you present yourself to potential clients.
Video is one, as Robert Weiss, President of Multivision Digital, highlights. “Having the right video on a page provides information, quickly,” he notes. “Video converts more visitors into leads because then they will have more information and confidence that you have what they are looking for.”
“An astonishing 89% of B2B researchers use the internet during the buying process." — Robert Weiss, President, Multivision Digital
Using a combination of product videos and FAQs, businesses can convert leads by presenting content in a way that’s clear and conveys confidence in the provider. And introducing yourself to a potential client through a video helps build their trust in you.
Many of us have mixed feelings about automation: On the one hand, it may trigger Matrix-like images of malevolent AI; on the other, many of us have bad memories of dealing with clunky mid-2000s automated chat programs. But modern chatbots can engage in almost seamless conversations, client hand-offs to humans, and even real time language translation.
Our experts agree that a chatbot is a useful element to the success of modern small business. Lance Muranga, VP Strategy and Client Operations at Abacus, highlighted it as his number one tool for converting website visits to client appointments.
Ben Keighley, Managing Director of Routes 4 Media, agreed. “We were recently helping a financial services client of ours increase landing page conversion rates from paid traffic, to generate more leads and reduce the cost per lead,” Ben said. “Our key implementation was an automated chatbot for frequently asked questions (FAQ) and then live chat operators to handle everything else quickly and effectively.”
"By implementing a chatbot, the client’s web conversions more than doubled from 3% to over 8% in just one month." — Ben Keighley, Managing Director, Routes 4 Media
Chatbots have the added advantage of being easily programmable and, in the case of the Smith.ai Chatbot, free to download and use.
The solution our experts highlighted most frequently is perhaps the easiest one — but one many of their clients missed. Several highlighted outsourced call answering, paired with live staffed chat on your website, as the critical addition for businesses. It’s easy to see why this would come up time and again, considering that only 47% of incoming calls are answered by small businesses, while half of all new leads are never contacted.
Ryan Ruud, Founder and CEO of LakeOne Digital, has been working with small businesses day and night to help them adapt to COVID-19. His conclusion? COVID-19 was a catalyst for change, but not the root cause. The deeper element was business owners who just weren’t comfortable taking a chance on something new, like staffed web chat.
“The professional service is the brand: the time, the voice, the people,” Ryan said. “Many see the need, but just don’t feel they had the resources to do it, or do it right.”
His solution? “Let's pick one specific deployment for chat to improve responsiveness and do it." That way, if chat doesn’t prove to be optimal, the client has limited exposure — but in his experience, they quickly discover what they’re missing.
Olly Fisher, Managing Director at Repeat Digital, similarly highlighted the need for virtual receptionists, especially when available 24/7. With some clients, especially those who offer emergency services like home repair or IT, after-hours responsiveness was similarly key.
“People don’t call back if you don’t pick up the first time." — Olly Fisher, Managing Director, Repeat Digital
Equally important was appointment scheduling: “Outsourced services need to be able to schedule appointments, because that’s the entire point of taking the inbound calls,” he noted. Having a service like Smith.ai that can conduct lead intake, schedule appointments, and conduct outbound reminders is essential, for both live chat and virtual receptionists.
All of the experts agreed that while the current situation was challenging, smart business owners would navigate it by taking advantage of shovel-ready resources they could add on right now. The key is whether they’d be early, enthusiastic adopters, or wait until circumstances forced them to adopt new ways of reaching and converting leads.
“Your website needs to quickly educate visitors about you, and you need to reach them where they are,” concluded Robert Weiss. “No one has time today.”
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